Panasonic discusses its GH3 and the challenge of making a high IQ compact

 Panasonic’s Michiharu Uematsu and Yoshiyuki Inoue

CP+ 2013: Panasonic is considering which cameras it needs to appeal to the different demands for Micro Four Thirds in different countries. We spoke to Michiharu Uematsu, Special Adviser, Imaging Business Group and Yoshiyuki Inoue, Senior Engineering Planner, Marketing Team, Imaging Business Group. They explain the challenges of making and marketing a high image quality compact and suggest the GH3 won’t get focus peaking.

Uematsu spoke about how the market has reacted to the company’s products: ‘GH3 has been well recieved, especially for motion pictures. As you know we interviewed many people in the industry in Europe and North America, so it would offer what they needed – broadcasters needed bitrates above 50Mbps so we offer 50 and 72Mbps. In Europe they needed 25p, not 50i. And they’re using GH3 – it’s much smaller and lighter than a professional camcorder and doesn’t need several people to operate it.’

However, he says, there is still one feature they’re calling for. ‘Focus peaking and zebra pattern. More than 90% of the requests we’re getting are for these features. We haven’t been able to offer it – because of the limits of resources and of the Venus Engine processor. Because it is not included in the Venus Engine, focus peaking is very hard to introduce – anything we added in software would be very different.’

Reconsidering the lineup

The story for the rest of the G lineup is less clear because different countries have embraced different models, he says: ‘In Japan and Asia, the GF series is very strong but European countries it’s very different. GH is well accepted everywhere – including America and Asia. In Japan the GF is our best seller but we have competition from Olympus, Sony, Canon and Nikon. We have to think about what to do next with the GF and G series – some people still require the viewfinder of the G series but it’s difficult to know what we should offer in the middle of the range for customers in Europe and America.

Meanwhile, he says, the success of the GX1 means there shouldn’t be the same wait that enthusiast’s experienced after the GF1. ‘We are considering the next GX, that’s all I can say. It’s been better received than the GF series in European countries. Our first thought was that the people who would want our cameras were step-up users from compact cameras. Outside of Japan this hasn’t been true and some high-end amateurs have accepted the cameras. Some people still like bigness, so we have to change our thinking. We have to explain that it’s not just a case that a bigger sensor is better – you also need to consider size and lens quality – that’s a very difficult message.’

And this split in users has made lens planning difficult, he says: ‘we have 18 lenses in production and we have professional and high-end amateur photographers requesting fast prime lenses. But we also sell many camera bodies to step-up users and they don’t buy other lenses. We have to also appeal to those users, we have to educate step-up users to buy lenses.’

And, when asked what effect the arrival to JK Imaging (which will sell Micro Four Thirds cameras under the Kodak name), Uematsu seems positive, especially if it helps to increase Micro Four Thirds sales in countries such as China. ‘It’s not bad news for us.’

Challenge of smartphones

‘It’s a very difficult situation – almost every one has a smartphone. We have our LX, TZ, FZ and FT series that do things that smartphones can’t. Maybe we should have a premium model, maybe with  bigger sensor. However, that takes engineering resources and you have to worry about price and the extra quality it will offer people – if we can sell 100,000 or 200,000, we will make it,’ says Uematsu.

Inoue explains that making a good camera isn’t enough: ‘Marketing is also very difficult – selling image quality to users is complicated. Maybe 4K2K televisions, which are very useful devices to display image quality, would help, but we have to consider how to market image quality. Other people can say “we have a bigger sensor,” but a combination of a not-so-big sensor and a brighter lens can be maybe better, but you have to explain F-number – it’s very difficult.’

Uematsu explains the company’s options: ‘There are three solutions, I think: we can make a camera with a small sensor and a bright lens – like the LX7 or we could use a bigger sensor but with a slower zoom lens. Finally we could build a camera with a bigger sensor and a bright fixed focal length lens. This last option would give the best image quality – maybe better than a DSLR or mirrorless camera because you don’t have mechanical tolerances of the lens mount. But that would be for a very different market – professionals and high-end amateurs. For everyone else, it’s hard to explain. For normal people, you have to wonder by what percentage the image quality is going to get better – maybe the best answer is a small sensor and bright lens.’ 

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